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Educating Marmalade

Apparently, the British are the only Europeans to differentiate orange marmalade from other fruit jams. On the continent marmalade can be used to describe any fruit preserve but here in the UK it is reserved solely (more or less) for citrus fruit preserves. The word is derived from the Portuguese word for quince, marmelo. Quinces would be boiled with sugar to a thick paste called marmalade which was then spread on trays or in moulds and eaten as a sweetmeat at the end of a meal to aid digestion. The same treatment was accorded to bitter Seville oranges and the name marmalade stuck although nowadays it refers to a spread rather than a paste. Both quince and orange marmalade pastes are very good (the former is usually sold these days as membrillo, an accompaniment for cheese) especially with a coffee.

The short Seville orange season prompts many a cook to unearth their preserving pan in order to make a batch of marmalade. There seems little else to be done with these mouth puckering fruits although once upon a time these golden orbs were a valued asset in the kitchen. They were used much in the same way as we use lemon juice to season meat and fish dishes or to aromatise desserts. It seems a shame that we don’t put them to greater use especially as the window of opportunity is so small (although Seville oranges can be frozen for use at a later date).

Elizabethan marmalade & 18th century orange creams made with Seville oranges

Elizabethan Marmalade

From Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book by Hilary Spurling


450g Seville oranges (about 4-6 depending on their size)

900g granulated sugar

900ml water

450g eating apples e.g. Cox’s, peeled, cored and finely sliced

  1. Line a 23cm square tin with foil lined baking parchment. Squeeze the oranges and reserve the juice. Place the hulls in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 45 minutes or until they are really tender. Drain then place the softened hulls into a food processor or blender and blitz to a rough purée.

  2. Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar in the water in a large saucepan over a gentle heat. Put half of the syrup into another large saucepan. Add the orange juice to one and the apples to the other. Bring the pan containing the orange juice and syrup to the boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface then add the pulped peel. Boil fast for 15 minutes. Bring the pan containing the apples to the boil and cook until they are tender (this should also take about 15 minutes).

  3. Add the cooked orange peel to the apple mixture. Continue to boil over a medium high heat, stirring intermittently at first breaking up the apple slices as you do so. As the mixture reduces and thickens you will need to stir constantly to stop the marmalade from catching on the bottom of the pan. It will be ready when it begins to come away from the sides of the pan and you can see the base of the pan when you draw the spoon through it.

  4. Pour the marmalade into the prepared tin, levelling the mixture quickly before it sets. As it cools it will set to a firm jelly. Cut into small squares and toss in granulated sugar before serving.

18th Century Orange Custards

Adapted from a recipe in Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769)

Ingredients (Serves 6)

2-3 Seville oranges

1 tbsp caster sugar

6 large egg yolks

110g caster sugar

1 tbsp brandy

1½ tsp orange flower water

4 level tsp cornflour

600ml double cream

  1. Remove half the zest from one of the oranges in thick strips using a potato peeler (being careful not to remove the white pith, which is bitter). Using a zester finely pare the other half into fine strips (these will be used to garnish the finished custards). Bring a small pan of water to the boil the place the thick and thin strips into it for 2 minutes. Drain and separate the thick and the thin strips of zest. Toss the thin strips in 1 tbsp caster sugar and leave to dry at room temperature overnight.

  2. Place the thicker pieces of boiled zest in a blender with the juice of 2 oranges, egg yolks, caster sugar, brandy, orange flower water and cornflour. Blend until smooth.

  3. Heat the cream until it reaches boiling point. Pour over the orange and egg mixture then blend briefly to thoroughly combine. Taste and add more orange juice if required. Pour this mixture into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring constantly, until the custard has thickened (it should coat the back of the spoon). Divide the mixture between 6x200ml ramekins. Cover each dish with clingfilm ensuring that the film touches the custard (this will prevent a skin from forming). Allow to cool then refrigerate overnight. Serve topped with the candied peel and some biscuits such as biscotti or shortbread on the side.

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